Confessions of a Reluctant Landlord
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Confessions of a Reluctant Landlord


Every human being wants a dwelling to live in. A hearth defines our very existence. In America's current capitalistic epoch, where our country is being bought piece by piece by profiteering hedge funds, there are few recourses enabling us — regular people, workers, the lower and middle classes —  to escape the need to rent. These days it is increasingly difficult to own one’s home. That harsh fact is becoming more and more urgent in the United States. I speak from 20 years' experience as a Landlord, albeit a reluctant Landlord. And, since I have just recently sold my property and given my Tenants ample notice of my change in status, I hope to move on in my new role as an ex-Landlord.

So, now as a former property-owner and ex-Landlord. I confess I am still a bit mystified and bewildered how it happened that  an unlikely capitalist such as I temporarily became a Landlord — forced by economic realities to rent out three individual rooms to outside Tenants while living there myself, sharing a modest New England condominium which had come into my possession through the kindness and generosity of a wealthy patron. During my two decades as a reluctant Landlord,  I met numerous people who had rented rooms here, having come to live in my property. Each was memorable in their own way, and I thank them for joining what felt at times like a small family, with all that intensity can entail.  

Twenty years after, which is not a literary event but a political understanding of how I and others have, of necessity perhaps,  exploited those who needed a place to live. How in a country where I live, it is pragmatic for both Landlords and Renters to make harsh compromises in order for both parties to survive in the American capitalist system's way of life. Landlords and Renters in America have a symbiotic relationship based on a ruthless capitalist economy in which the exploiter and toiler seek out a crude arrangement in order to survive by any means possible.

Certainly these economic disparities are nothing new. As Friedrich Engels wrote nearly two centuries ago  in his classic seminal work THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING-CLASS IN ENGLAND IN 1844,  “Since capital or indirect control of the means of subsistence and production, is the weapon with which this social warfare is carried on, it is clear that all the disadvantages of such a state must fall upon the poor. For him no man has the slightest concern”[i] 

In Burlington, Vermont I came to live with such people that Engels observed and wrote about, except here I also saw how America's nationalistic hubris rationalized about a Renter's life — and how the Landlord-Tenant relation, while not quite Master-Slave, but close, actually managed to  destroy what dignity and sensitivity left among the workers, the students, and petite bourgeoisie who rent not only from me, but other Landlords as well.  

When I decided  I was no longer able to provide "services" as a Landlord, and realized I would prefer to live elsewhere under freer conditions, I sold my property. Then, I came to know freedom again, and to some extent rejoined the enduring masses even if my class position, as a writer, artist, soccer coach, and intellectual, was not necessarily always one of true egalitarianism with them. One cannot deny that such an occupation as being a writer, someone who attempts to render acute observation of a social milieu, sets one apart to a degree from the toiling people, the proletariat,  in their daily quest for economic, political and social emancipation.

To rent a room or an apartment in Burlington, Vermont is to be a part of the continual exploitation which persists nation-wide in America. The Burlington Free Press reported,  “According to ...real estate research firm Allen & Brooks, June 2015 average monthly rents for a one-bedroom apartment in Burlington ranged from $900 to $1,200. For a two-bedroom unit, the price ranged from $1,200 to $1,500, and for a three-bedroom, $1,500 to $2,400..”[ii]  Further real estate research in 2015 stated, " [Local]  apartment rents... have increased on average about 3 percent annually over the past 10 years.” Brooks commented,  “Each year average rentals rates increased from 1.5 percent in 2010 to 4.6 percent in 2007.”[iii] 

This is indicative of a national trend, whereby in the United States working class families and single men and women are finding it increasing more difficult to find a place which they can afford, even when they are now working at two or even three jobs. As Senior Research Analyst Elizabeth La Jeunesse of the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University explained, “While rental markets are cooling nationally, market conditions remain extremely tight at the low end of the market, offering little relief to affordability pressures faced by renters with the lowest incomes, according to our new report, America’s Rental Housing 2017.”[iv]

She then went on to provide these stark facts about low-income housing:

In fact, by several metrics, lower-priced housing is increasingly hard to find not only in high-cost coastal areas but also in many inland areas where rents are generally lower. Illustratively, vacancy rates for less expensive units – those with rents below the median for their metropolitan area – were below those for more expensive units in 42 of the nation’s 50 largest metros, including all but one of the nation’s largest 15 metros. Moreover, in 14 of the 50 largest metros, vacancy rates for less expensive units were less than or equal to 5 percent last year, compared to 2006, when just three metros had such tight conditions. The tightest markets were in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland, where vacancy rates for less expensive units were under 3 percent.[v]       

Finally, the research analyst admitted, “The bottom line is that while rental markets are cooling nationally, households in need of modestly-priced rental housing still face challenging conditions in many areas.”[vi]  When there is a shortage of housing for those Americans who do not have a solid middle class occupation, when you have military veterans who are out of the armed services and working simply to maintain a decent standard of living, when you have the aged and the dispossessed on the streets who go from rooming house to rooming house, when you have students who lived in cramped hovels— All this social tension of inadequate housing and low wages leads not only to class warfare which is inevitable, but also leads to social violence among the exploited classes as well.

To own a home or rent a room or apartment are options that inevitably lead to desecration of one’s human dignity in America. According to a research group on home  ownership vs. rental options, with the ironic name of “Money”,  analyst Brad Tuttle came to this grim conclusion during 2017. The National Low Income Housing Coalition shows just how unaffordable rent is for workers making the federal minimum-wage of $7.25 per hour. “In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom rental home in the U.S., Renters need to earn a wage of $21.21 per hour,” the report states. That’s nearly $14 higher than the federal minimum wage, and nearly $5 per hour more than the average Renter’s hourly pay ($16.38).

"The researchers also looked at how many hours a minimum-wage employee would have to work weekly in order to afford rent. Using the common wisdom that housing costs should be no more than 30% of one’s income, researchers found that workers making $7.25 an hour would have to put in 94.5 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom unit. That, quite obviously, would be like working more than two full-time 40-hours-per-week jobs." [vii]

And so, in this short Confession as an ex-Landlord, I have masked, or hidden much of my own grief and dismay at what I witnessed about the human condition for twenty years, and that is why when I go abroad and stay in a small room, for instance in Paris, I feel more secure in such simple, basic surroundings — the kind of rooming houses Balzac described so well in his novels about the Human Comedy — places with less to fear there than here in America.

Through the years of my tenure as a reluctant Landlord, I saw how many of the people who rented my rooms had to increase their work hours, and then during the Obama and Trump regimes had been forced to work two or even three part-time jobs under grueling working conditions to be able to not only rent their small rooms, but to be even able to feed themselves with generic food at best. I witnessed the young, middle-aged, and retirement Renters take to drugs, alcohol or other deviate addictions to quell their anger and their endless frustration in living in poverty. In a word, I saw personal and class hatred in their eyes and body language, I saw them wander into the streets with despair, when they lost their discipline to hold down their jobs and pay their rent. In the early morning hours or nighttime, they fled my or other Landlords’ premises to seek another rental apartment or condo unit to escape the Landlord — the Landlord they despised, only to come to  similar grief as  Renters in another dwelling in America.


Author: Luis Lázaro Tijerina